Archives for posts with tag: connected studio

Last Monday (June 9th) saw the 6th BBC Online Briefing, outlining the organisation’s digital activity for external stakeholders and suppliers. I was lucky enough to be asked along again so as ever, I thought I’d report back (and, yes, it’s taken a week but what can I say, we’ve been busy).

Once again we were in the BBC’s storied Radio Theatre, and the event was hosted by the thoroughly charming Fiona Bruce, who seemed to be relishing this second appearance and generally got under the skin of the discussions more than last time (sometimes provocatively so, but we’ll get to that later).

BBC Online’s current priorities – BBC iPlayer, myBBC, innovation at scale, “the BBC, online” and continuous delivery  – were emblazoned on a banner by the side of the stage and in his opening key note,  BBC Future Media Director Ralph Rivera outlined these through a series of concrete examples from across “the products”, including:

  • the roll out of the Knowledge and Learning “iWonder” guides (a huge task involving the consolidation of material from over 200 existing sites)
  • long-form journalism in News (in which I gather our good friend Paul Finn of Fitzroy and Finn had a major part in designing)
  • the new iPlayer, launched in BETA in March
  • the re-tooling of “below the waterline” features such as metadata ingest
  • the ongoing development of Playlister
  • ditto with BBC Live, which will give, over the summer, “the Olympic experience” to Wimbledon, Glastonbury, the Commonwealth Games and of course the World Cup, which I gather is happening as I write

Ralph went on the discuss the importance of working with external companies. He admitted that it was still difficult for outsiders to work with the organisation, but that the development of the new roster, broken into Testing, Design and Services, was hopefully going to be a big step in improving things. He also pointed out that the external quota is “a floor, not a ceiling”; the impressive fact that last year’s external spend in digital was 30% – around £19.5 million) suggests that this is more than just rhetoric.

Robin Cramp was up next, talking though Connected Studio‘s work over the last six months (much of which, of course, we’ve reported on this blog). Robin first introduced Matt Shearer, from BBC News Labs and Chris Rush, of the agency Realise who talked us through Referend-erm, an interactive hub about the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, aimed at 16-24 year olds, where “no question is to big, to small or too stupid to ask”. I was pleased to see that the team had opted to to create an app but rather a mobile-first, fully responsive website. Matt described the work as a “speedboat project” – enabling the the team to build something outside the organisation’s usual roadmap.

Robin was joined by CS Head Adrian Woolard. The two talked through upcoming CS projects, which would include working with the Natural History on their next behemoth series, One Planet, as well as with Radio 3, building on the work already done around classical music, and the World Service. Adrian also discussed a project encouraging coding for teenagers and hinted at a new platform to enable “innovation at scale” – but couldn’t say what it was jut yet…

John Page from R&D then presented a range of work that showed just how BBC R&D was “at the heart of reinventing our industry”, looking ahead in time frames of 3, 5 and 10 years. “Broadcast as a system” had traditionally been Create>>Deliver>>Consume, but several factors were disrupting the model, including end-to-end IP, data-centrism and new devices and interfaces. R&D are currently responding to these shifts by concentrating on projects that are:

  • immersive (a project using Oculus Rift and binaural sound to present chamber performances by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra)
  • data-centric (overlays on sports event)
  • interactive/personal/adaptive (personalised sound mixing of live events)

John also discussed the importance of collaboration with outside agencies including tech manufacturers, SMEs, digital agencies (I was pleased to see that they’ve been working with my old firm Somethin’ Else) and academia.

The final presentation of the first half came from Carmen Aitken from BBC Audiences, who came to talk not about “the death of TV” – but rather its future, based on various in-depth audience research methods. TV, however it’s consumed, continues to satisfy four key needs: sociability, sensory stimulation, synchrony and relaxation. Interestingly, research shows that most viewers generally know what they want to watch, and find it via EPG, PVR and VOD – very much in that order. As for those of us who have given up on the TV as a device entirely – well, we are still very much outliers, although it’s worth noting that we tend to use laptops to do so rather than tablets.

Carmen posited three scenarios for the future of TV, using car-based metaphors:

  • Flying Cars model – a completely disrupted landscape
  • Horse and cart model – business as usual
  • Modified car model – some hybrid of the present and new forms of consumption

She made a cogent argument for the likelihood of the last one, of course. I personally emain unconvinced, and, as I’ve said before, when thinking about the future of media generally, we’d all do well to think about Nasseem Taleb’s “turkey graph“.

After a brief break, the stage was taken by polymath Dave Birss, who’d been asked to think about what he would do if given a digital-only network to run (one couldn’t help but think of BBC Three here, but that was never made explicit). Dave set out to test a series of assumptions, in each case taking them part fairly comprehensively. These included:

  • Assumption – “The success of a programme = the number of viewers.” Dave – why couldn’t we use the number of interactions as a success measure? Wouldn’t this tell us more about how an audience really felt?
  • Assumption: “We make programmes for people sitting on the settee.” Dave – really? Tech gives us the ability to make location-based, context-appropriate content.
  • Assumption: – “Digital stuff should be an extension of TV content.” Dave – why not start “in the real world”? What about “player-written drama” or “social-guided programming”?
  • Assumption: “Content needs to be edited to fixed lengths.” Dave – why not have expandable content”, content which might initially appear as a 3 minute stub, which might expand to 90 minutes if the viewer wanted to see, say, a whole interview.

This last point was the most compelling for me, but interestingly it’s where Fiona Bruce came in, making the observation that from her experience, lengthy, un-edited interviews led to “crapitude”. Well, I think it’s a question of intention: if you go into an interview knowing that you can fix things in the edit there’s no real jeopardy – no incentive to make a good long-from interview. But speaking as podcast junkie, I have to say that the scene is pretty inspiring – and I rarely, if ever, come across a dud. (Note that Dubner & Levitt and are doing the rounds at the moment, promoting Think Like A Freak; most of what I’ve heard on the radio so far has been soundbyte-y, but not this fabulous hour-long conversation on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Most definitely not an example of crapitude.)

The session was rounded off with a Q&A with Ralph and Matthew Postgate, Controller of R&D. Questions covered included:

  • What tech gets you most excited? Matthew – broadcasting data sets and the Internet of Things; Ralph – truly interactive, immersive video.
  • What the role of UGC? Ralph – something we can draw on, but not our core mission nor a strength; “we are the signal in the noise”.
  • What are the key qualities you’re looking for in a collaborator:P Ralph – creativity, diversity, a focus on delivery – and tenacity.
  • Will the licence renewal process affect innovation? Matthew – yes, but positively, driving innovation in areas like personalisation.

Once again, it was a thoroughly engaging afternoon, and a revealing one two. Congratulations to all involved and I look forward to the next one…


Last week Sarah and I attended the second BBC Future Media Indie Briefing events of the year, once again held in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House, or New Broadcasting House as it seems it must now be called. Last spring’s event was hosted by Kirsty Wark; today it was the turn of Fiona Bruce, who was fantastically charming and smart – and a great anecdote spinner.

The first of the day’s speakers was BBC FM director, Ralph Rivera, who talked us through what his area had achieved over the last few months and where they were headed next (indeed, his presentation was simply titled “Where Next?”) Last year’s full digital service for the Olympics had inevitably led to lots of BBC teams asking for “the Olympics treatment”, and that treatment – now branded BBC Live – was rolled out this year to Glastonbury and Wimbledon. The next few months will see even more BBC Live moments, including the World Cup, the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.

In the meantime, FM are still executing the 1-10-4 strategy (1 Service, 10 Products, 4 Screens) and Ralph gave several examples of success arising from that strategy, including the CBeebies app (1.4 million downloads, effectively doubling CBeebies’ traffic) and BBC Weather.

However, Ralph admitted that so much of what FM does is still a digital extension of what’s already happening of BBC Radio and TV; his ambition is still to make “new stuff” in “new ways”. They’ve already made some strides here, including iPlayer-premiered Dr Who mini-episodes and the recently launched Playlister, which adds BBC radio editorial curation to the algorithmic and social recommendation normally found in such music services as Spotify (and apparently Spotify are very happy with it).

Alerts are going to be a big thing in future developments and the iPlayer catch up window is going to expand from 7 to 30 days – which is unquestionably a major deal.

Lastly, the future vision for the production was one of “continuous delivery”: Build > Deploy > Test > Release > Build and on and on. This is all about reducing time from idea to implementation and crucially, Ralph concluded, none of this could be done without partnerships – something no doubt most of the room would be relieved to hear.

Next up was the turn of a former colleague from my days in BBC Radio and Music Online: Tim Plyming. Last time we hooked up with Tim he was doing great stuff at the British Museum, but now he’s back at the Beeb as the digital exec leading the massive World War 1 Centenary. I say “massive” because, as Tim said, the centenary is going to be “the biggest season the BBC has ever done”, following WW1 in “real time” across 4 years.

At its heart the season is going to be about personal and locational connection to the war, and will be driven by online (the centenary has a recently relaunched website). Previous views of this war have tended to look at it through a particular prism, portraying it as four solid years of horrendous trench warfare. But there’s so much more to it than that, and digital only content will, over the next few months and years, start to tell rather different stories, not least about life on the home front (it was new to Sarah and I that Brighton Pavilion, just down the road from us, was used for treating injured servicemen).

And once again, partnerships were going to be key to making this successful. There’s already one up and running with the Imperial War Museum: “WWI at Home” which will eventually be home to over 1500 individual stories.

The opening session concluded with a presentation from BBC Audiences, represented by Carmen Aitken, Head of Audiences and Research Manager Simon Kendrick. Here are some of the headlines from their presentation:

  • 30% of UK homes has 5 or more connected devices.
  • 55% of digital consumers still access online only on a desktop PC (so rumours of the PC’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it seems)
  • The screen is not the biggest determinator of choice. Actually it’s more likely a combination of location, mood and content
  • “Time Rules All”; understanding the shape of people’s day is crucial to understanding their media use.
  • Upcoming demographic change meant that yes, the audience would be getting older – but there is going to be a lot more young media consumers too.
  • Kids: always online, always multitasking, on mobiles, but also – still watching TV and still reading books, apparently
  • (I was struck – though hardly surprised – that mostly what kids do on tablets is play games.)
  • Developers need to make stuff simple: don’t make things challenging
  • Despite all this, kids apparently aren’t going to have very different “basic human needs” from their predecessors (something I’m not so sure about, but that’s another issue.)

The pair took questions from the audience, with Sarah getting straight in with a question about how they arrived at audience insight. The answer it seems, is through a whole host of measurement methodologies.

We had a short break, then it was the turn of the Connected Studio team, with whom we’ve been working pretty closely over the last year, one way and another. The presentation opened with Robin Cramp who talked us through the 7 projects that are going through to production from the Build Studio phase (remember: 5 had been promised, so delivery is outstripping expectation). The projects included:

  • Perceptive Audio App, made by Aardman and Profero
  • Predicto Machino, from Leeds’ MadeByPi
  • EEZL, by Peekabu in Edinburgh
  • Virtual Crowd, also from MadeByPi
  • Pocket Pundit, from Aerian, Wiltshire

sportTwo things struck me about the projects: firstly, and mostimportantly, I really don’t believe these projects would have arisen from “business as usual”. And secondly, it’s great to see the geographical spread of the companies whose work is going through.

We were also given a couple of demonstrations. John Davison of Kanoti talked about the HTML5 “photographic comic” they developed for Inside No 9 at the Comedy Lab. And Matt Shearer from BBC News presented the work done at the BBC News Labs. #newsHACK was a 2-day event held at Shoreditch Town Hall that brought together 10 news organisations and 6 universities, and opened up APIs on over 400,000 articles. The event has led to collaborations with both Sky News and the Financial Times and a follow up is planned for spring.


Connected Studio’s chief, Adrian Woolard, finished up the CS presentation with a round up of some of the lessons learned, some examples of other people doing well in this space, principally because they are allowed to fail (including govUK and Makeshift), and finally a look at some upcoming initiatives, including a News Archive CS in Northern Ireland, a Classical Music CS in Wales, #newsHACK 2, more studio sprints and the relaunch of the CS online presence.

From our point of view, as strong supporters of Connected Studio, it’s great to see it take centre stage at this event once again.

Finally, Ralph took the stage again, this time with Jane Weedon, Director of Business Development, to take questions from the audience. I’m afraid I got in with the second Turner Hopkins question of the day. I wanted to know about the fate of the Digital Public Space in all of this – the answer to which seems to be that rather than an initiative in its own right, its become a kind of defining ethos behind a lot of other BBC FM activity, from CS to the WWI season.

All in all, another fine event, and a great window on the work BBC FM is doing with the external sector. Congratulations to all those who put in the evident hard work to pull it off.


So, as Sarah mentioned in her post early this week, Turner Hopkins has been on holiday. As it happens I was back in the country for about 24 hours then was straight off to Glasgow – fast becoming my second favourite UK city – as part of our ongoing work reviewing the BBC’s Connected Studio initiative.

We’ve written about CS here before, but just to recap. The Connected Studio is essentially the latest in a series of of initiatives the Beeb has run over perhaps the last 15 years aimed at creating an innovation process for independent producers and technologists – working, of course, with the BBC’s talent, brands and infrastructure. I myself had the privilege of taking part in an earlier iteration – the BBC Labs process – when I was Head of Interactive at Somethin’ Else. That was getting on for a decade ago now, so the problems CS is setting out to address are plainly long-standing ones.

But I digress.

We first checked in on Connected Studio almost a year ago, with the inaugural session in Salford, which looked at the the Search, Homepage and Navigation “product”. Now, a year on, all but one of the ten products (which include News, Childrens, Weather and so on) have had at least one Connected Studio session, but this one was somewhat different. For rather than addressing one of the products, it looked instead at ideas for next year’s Commonwealth Games, which will take place in Glasgow and are a major editorial priority for BBC Scotland.

Given that both innovation in general and the building of relationships between large companies and small suppliers are notoriously thorny areas, the CS process is relatively straightforward. A one day “Creative Studio” (of which this is an example) is an intensive session aimed at selecting a handful of potential projects to take through to the second stage, the “Build Studio”. Teams may come to the day with an idea more or less fully formed and are on the lookout for collaborators to finesse it; others may come with only the vaguest of ideas and need collaborators to build the idea from the ground up. In either case, they have just one day to pull together a two-minute pitch which will be delivered in a fast and furious pitch session at the end of the day. Along the way the BBC supply briefing sessions to set an editorial and strategic context, and training and advice on pitching.

Here’s how the day panned out.

We kicked off with a general CS briefing from Robin Cramp, talking us through the process and outlining the day. Robin also went through the judging criteria: relevance to brief, distinctiveness, innovation, value, BBC public purposes and Connected Strategy (that is, how well does the idea support the organisation’s “One Service, Ten Products and Four Screens” strategy.) And he stressed: disrupt! Be big! (Something of a mantra for the morning, as you’ll see.)

We got insight on the Commonwealth Games more specifically from Bruce Malcolm, Head of BBC CW Games, who was interviewed by Claire White, Development Producer for BBC CW Games. Bruce made it clear that they would love Connected Studio to provide them with a significant part of the Games’ coverage; he again said that are they are looking for big ideas out of CS – and specifically ways to reach youth.

Eddie Morgan, Director, Northern Town (and, as former Head of BBC College of Production essentially one of our former clients) talked about The Space – the BBC and Arts Council’s online arts portal – as a way of framing the kinds of approaches which would work for the Games. He was admirably frank in talking about what hadn’t worked on the project and that a big failure had been around its promotion. This was borne out that only about 5% of the room had heard of The Space – a genuine shame. And lessons for CS? Once again: be big, bold, audacious, simple, memorable.

Becky Highby from BBC Audiences gave us some insights into arts and culture consumption. Among her observations, my ears pricked up at the fact that art consumption is heavily skewed towards “better off” women, that Sky Arts is now seen as a threat to the BBC, and that the latter’s arts coverage is considered often rather niche, with TV audiences around 500k. However, Becky went on to say that the organisation is bullish about taking arts mainstream with such shows as Climbed Every Mountain, Maestro at the Opera, and Fake or Fortune. (All new to me, I confess, but I guess the BBC would have me pegged as niche. Oy veh.)

The ever-inspiring Chris Sizemore, Executive Editor at for Knowledge & Learning gave us a sneak preview the K&L “product” – which may or may not be called “BBC Curious” or “iWonder”. In essence it consists of interactive guides to help users delve deeper into the “spark moments” provided by radio and TV; having been round some of the early thinking on the initiative I was delighted to see how far the ideas have come and what a clear and attractive proposition they are. I’m truly looking forward to their launch in the autumn.

Our old friend Jem Stone, Social Media Editor in Radio & Music, talked through the huge weekend BBC had just had in terms of radio and online – Glastonbury, F1, Wimbledon. (This included full video sets from 120 acts at Glasto, which are online for 30 days if want to check them out.) Jem’s headline recommendations were:

  • “Big isn’t a barrier”
  • “Simple works”
  • “Learn from the past”
  • “Know your audience”
  • “Don’t make assumptions”

Jem also pointed out the genius “Shit social media in Radio” facebook page, somewhat ruefully.

The final BBC presentations of the morning came from David Gallagher – User Experience & Design – who talked through some design principles (including “create emotional connections – think about what your idea does for people”) and Si Lumb, Senior Product Manager in Games and Play – who talked about the strategy for games on (which at last count apparently had over 1700 of them!)

After lunch, Linda Cockburn revisited the excellent presentation we’d seen her give in Salford last year: “”How to create the perfect 2 minute pitch. In essence, her key points are:

  • The hook – what’s your opening line?
  • Audience – who’s your idea aimed at?
  • Benefits – what does the audience get from this?
  • Approach – how does it work?
  • Close – what’s the last thing you’ll say?

She also stressed the importance of rehearsing presentations – over and over! – something with which I heartily concur.

So the rest of the day saw teams forming and getting on with the real business of putting to together and refining their ideas, and preparing their end-of-day presentation. Various BBC team members, including all the morning’s speakers, were on hand at any point to advise or generally act as a sounding board.

And then… the presentations. 33 of them. Two minutes each with 30 seconds’ Q&A. Over two hours in total. Now, by rights, this should be a daunting prospect for anyone to sit through, but it was, in fact, a blast. This is in good part down to Robin’s excellent chairing of the session (he’s a natural – very funny, and always putting the presenters at ease). And the fast and furious nature of the sessions (as the two minute rule is very strictly policed) really helps. But it’s also down to the quality of the presentations themselves , and the thinking behind them. Given the strict time limit, there’s also a surprising variety of formats, from fully worked up on-screen visuals to paper sketches and even a couple unadorned talks (very brave, I thought).

Now, this is already a monster post, but at the risk of making it more so, I thought it would be good to present the notes I took while the presentations were taking place. Bear with me: again, this was fast-paced – and long – so these are the briefest of outlines. And I may have missed something; if you were there on the day please get in touch with any clarifications/ommissions/corrections, and I’ll publish them immediately. So, here goes…

  • MyLights – an interactive personalised montage of events, generated off twitter profiles
  • Sports manager – a game which manages not a team but a whole sport.
  • Sportspace – a game to design a sport from the ground up
  • Commiepatois – “gather and share commonwealth patter”
  • BBC My Commonwealth – a personalised dashboard
  • Commonwealth Roots – an online community bringing together genealogy with BBC archival content
  • Two Big Ears – an audio-enhanced and possibly gamified timeline exploring the history of the CW Games
  • – a white labeled second screen app aggregating conversation around the Games
  • Live Music Stage – a two-way streaming app that puts users onstage with their favourite acts.
  • Embassy office – a virtual point of contact for visitors to the games
  • Longest catwalk in the world – a celebration of Glasgow fashion – on the underground!
  • Commonwealth dollar – teaching children about the value of currency
  • Glimpse – getting people into physical activity through online tutorials
  • An online guide to the East African slave trade/
  • iAir – a TV studio app for tablets
  • OurCommonwealth – a mobile app which crunches country-level stats to supply a picture of Commonwealth countries, enabling Top Trumps-like gamification.
  • Common Senses – a persronalised app aggregating stories from around the Commonwealth.
  • Commonwealth SportsDay – a multiplayer game creating a virtual international school sports day
  • A reimagination of the BBC Homepage, using the Games as a framework.
  • iMoments – an aggregator of social media commentary, using BBC content as a hook
  • Culture Chuck – an app for the sharing of cultural activity
  • A social media app to tell personal stories about the Games.
  • iExperienced – a tool for crowd-sourced commentary and cature of events
  • Commonhealth – a cross-platform initiative tracking nurses around the world fighting non-communicable diseases.
  • My Commonwealth Cousins – an online animated guide to the Commonwealth
  • Commonwealth Boardgames – bringing together children’s games from around the world
  • Gecko – engaging games for kids across devices and platforms based around a journey across the commonwealth and themed by nations.
  • Commonwealth Me – an app aggregating personalised CW Games content
  • A way for amateur film makers from across the world to collaborate.
  • Commonwealth of games – a games aggregator helping kids explore the Commonwealth.
  • Commonwealth Explorer – an app using either a timeline or interactive globe to explore Commonwealth content
  • The Village – A satirical, animated take on the Games, made almost in real time and updated daily

I’ll be genuinely intrigued to see which ideas go forward to the next stage. In the meantime, congrats to the CS team and the folks at BBC Scotland for bringing together such a fascinating and enjoyable day.


Sarah and I are up in Manchester, at the Sharp Project to be precise, to see the next stage in the BBC’s Connected Studio initiative, which Sarah’s been commissioned to review. We were up at Media City UK in Salford earlier in the year to see the “creative” stage of the project, a very early networking and brainstorming event where nearly 30 teams pitched ideas around the Search, Homepage and Nav “product”, after just a few hours of briefing and ideas-grinding. Today we’re sitting in on pitches around CBBC, and things are much further down the line by now. Two hours of pitches from 10 teams follow two very long days of actual development, and the thinking and work which has gone into all of these ideas is evident.

One of the instructions given to the teams is that ID and sign-up should be drivers of the ideas, so bear that in mind when you read through this quick breakdown of what we saw; also, this is strictly in headlines, as there’s a degree of IP sensitivity at stake, of course.

  • Aerian Studios showed us Crowd Sauce, an online collaborative gaming engine.
  • Peekabu presented EEZL, a very nifty piece of tech tying together image recognition, user-generated imagery and ID tracking.
  • An internal team from the BBC – today’s only one, in fact – presented CBBC Takeover, a “scalable treasure hunt with a difference”, dispersing clues, questions and challenges throughout the CBBC website.
  • MadbyPi showed us Predicto Machino, which, essentially, gamifies user info-gathering and content recommendation.
  • Young presented Music Mash Up, a flash-based music sequencer which would allow kids to loop clips from TV to make new pieces of music.
  • Mudlark showed us CBBC Life-Like, a “context-driven CBBC Dashboard” which smartly seeks to help kids navigate their way through overwhelming masses of content.
  • Corporation Pop walked us through Smart TV  Fan Club
  • Aardman Digital presented The Lair, with which kids create a goopy, gunky environment to unleash on CBBC celeb.
  • Carbon Studio  had CBBCNow, an app which aggregates content and games around brands and themes and allows sharing within a friendship group.
  • And finally Savvy Productions demo’d a second screen app designed to exploit the archive.

I’m sure Sarah will have more to say here later as she finalise her report, but my reaction to today’s presentations (and I did so with many hats on – a parent, a long-time associate of the beeb and, of course, as Convergence champion for the CIKTN.